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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Leaping Lupus was well trained

In case you haven't heard, the judges of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition disqualified the winner.

They concluded the stunning image of the jumping wolf was nature faked.

It seems the wolf was tame and as cooperative as Lassie.

I must say that I was a little doubtful about the photograph's pleasant and orderly setting.

It looked more like a museum diorama than real wolf habitat.

A photographer would have a very long wait --we're talking geological time -- for a wild wolf to jump such a fence.

However, I contend that if you know your subject and the terrain -- and use a camera trap -- such a photo wouldn't be impossible to take.

Technically, it isn't hard to get a photo of a leaping mammal.

The hard part is finding a trail used by wolves that crosses a fence.

Wildlife take the path of least resistance unless pressed, and they'll often creep under a fence if they can.

Here in the states wildlife do jump fences made of posts and barbed wire, and the crossing point is usually where the top strand was cut or broken by a falling tree limb.

Tumbled down sections of stone fences also become crossings marked by well worn paths and hoof-chopped earth.

Here's what the codger would do.

I'd try to determine the usual direction of animal movement -- e.g. downhill on a slope, and then I'd adjust and test the camera set by getting my dog to jump the fence.

Fred could do it if the fence wasn't too high.

Where legal, an attractant -- scent, bait or sound could be used to increase the chances of a photo.

Then I'd just wait for the picture.

There's a good chance several contest deadlines will have come and gone before getting the desired picture, and we could be talking geological time again.

But in my experience the wait wouldn't be that long.

The desired photo would highlight the wrong end of the animal, which would be a poacher with a large butt in camo.


suek said...

Could you set up two cameras, with one triggering the other? So that when one was triggered by motion, somehow, it would trigger the other and you'd get a photo of both ends?

Sam Easterson said...

Another great post Codger. I hope the whole incident won't make wildlife photography juries more reluctant to give awards to people who employ camera traps. There are so many photographers, like yourself, taking amazing photos of wild animals in the field. The whole incident seemed to stir as many feelings about 'camera traps' as a medium, as it did about the use of tame animals.

dr_fiehlgood said...

I think we have several shots of leaping woodrats at Chimineas. Somehow I don't think they would be considered award-worthy...

John W. Wall said...

I wonder if you "misunderestimate" the technical challenges of catching the leap at all, much less having it be sharp. You'd have to work out the timing just right so that your camera fired before the animal had left the scene, and if the light wasn't good, your shutter speed wouldn't be fast enough. If you used a typical camera-trap flash, that still might not be fast enough to stop the action, plus a single on-camera flash won't look that great.

randomtruth said...

As the COdger said, catching the leap is just about the wait - here's one I just caught of a mule deer - so you'd just have to have a proper fast camera to stop the motion, and enough fill flash to properly illuminate the scene. Using the Camera Axe with a dSLR and 2 slave flashes would probably do it.

randomtruth said...

Wouldn't your and Durham's photos of bats in flight be a reasonable example of what to expect from the 2 different types of cam traps? I.e., cam traps based on p&s vs. dSLR?

randomtruth said...

3rd time, but this one on the wolf... You know what screams out at me about the photo? IMO the wolf is tracking something with his eyes. Like he's chasing something that's running or being pulled along the ground. Watch a dog jump - he/she won't really look down at where they're going to land - they'll be looking ahead or at you - their brain has already sorted out the landing and such as a background process.

Camera Trap Codger said...

I was thinking of the Camera Axe too, RT, which as you know will catch a flying hummingbird, leaping wood rat or high speed Mexican free-tailed bat in frozen motion. Not to mention bullets and popping balloons.

Okay, it would be a challenge to set it up and keep it in place without the cows using it as a rubbing post. I believe 2010 may see RT, Craig, and me beginning experimentation with the Camera Axe and faster cameras. Michael Durham's website has some wonderful bat shots taken with a setup similar to the Camera Axe, if not the Camera Axe itself.

Camera Trap Codger said...

And yes Suek, two cameras can be wired to get front and back sides.